InnVision Shelter Network, the largest provider of services for homeless and needy persons in Palo Alto, is scrambling to find funding for its programs, according to a memo received by the Weekly.
The nonprofit organization, which manages the Opportunity Center's drop-in services and other programs, has been borrowing funding from other programs in its vast network for the past two years, spokeswoman Mila Zelkha told the Weekly.
The problem isn't a lack of interest: Palo Alto's high rate of volunteerism places it among the Network's most engaged communities. But "We have been unable thus far to raise the funds in Palo Alto we need to continue providing these services. We hope to raise awareness of the homeless challenges in the community and engender the local financial support that is, from those who live and work in Palo Alto. We need to continue supporting those less fortunate in our community," Network leadership noted in the memo.
InnVision Shelter Network is the product of a 2012 merger between InnVision of Santa Clara County, which was based in San Jose, and Shelter Network, based in San Mateo County. Mergers usually take up to four years to straighten out financially, but Palo Alto's programs pose some additional challenges, Zelkha said. The Opportunity Center is the nonprofit's only multi-services drop in center; other services the agency offers are provided in conjunction with housing at 18 sites. These other sites are funded by a wide range of sources, including corporations, government, foundations and individuals. Palo Alto's program is not.
Santa Clara County doesn't provide any funding to the drop-in center, although it does provide funding for the Opportunity Center's housing program, she said.
The Network operates four programs in Palo Alto: The drop-in center, which provides comprehensive, coordinated-care services, including mental health counseling, health care, medication, help with filling out paperwork for benefits, support groups, showers and job counseling; Hotel De Zink, which provides emergency shelter at local churches to 15 chronically homeless adults a day, many who have mental illness; Breaking Bread, a hot-meals program for low-income and homeless persons; and the Food Closet, which provides groceries and ready-to-eat food to homeless and low-income Palo Altans.
The cost of these services is $813,000 annually. But the programs only receive $225,464, according to the nonprofit's annual budget. That leaves a $587,536 deficit. The Community Working Group, which owns the Opportunity Center building, provides $125,000 for operational expenses from its endowment; the City of Palo Alto pays out $49,515 annually from its Community Development Block Grant program and Human Services Resource Allocation Process grants, according to the budget. That funding covers only part of the drop-in center's $641,060 budget; there is no other funding, Zelkha said.
Shelter Network officials "went into the merger with their eyes open," Zelkha said of the funding gap. The new organization originally received generous transitional funding from corporate donors, including the Sobrato and Packard foundations, for merger costs, but with no one else willing to step up, the situation has reached a tipping point, Zelkha said.
Dr. Donald Barr, Community Working Group founder and board member, said the group has been very pleased with the InnVision Shelter Networks' quality of work and its cooperative staff and programs. But the Working Group has also had to dip into its endowment to pay for expenses that have been higher than projected.
"We can't go further into the endowment," he said. The Working Group receives donations, but they are never enough to cover all of the costs, he said.
"The city should take a long, hard look if the services should be budgeted through the Human Services Task Force to ensure stability," he said.
There has been no discussion of cutting services at this point, he added. But Zelkha said the Network has been making adjustments. In May, it reduced the Breaking Bread hot meals program from seven to five days per week, saving $22,000 annually.
"We are redoing programs from the inside out," she said.
The nonprofit is working with Second Harvest Food Bank to become the host agency for its food closet program. And CalFresh, a federally funded program that helps low-income people buy food, can provide additional resources, she said.
The nonprofit has also submitted a memo to Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian to help get the county's social services agency to provide satellite hours at the Opportunity Center.
"We can add services into the building without impacting costs," she said.
"This building does a tremendous amount of good work ... and it has such great intentions," Zelkha said of the Opportunity Center. "It immediately fulfilled its promise by providing housing. Now it remains this question of how for the folks who are not housed upstairs how do we engage those clients and how do we fund those projects?"
Staff in the city's Human Services department were not available for comment. Last year the Human Services Resource Allocation Process provided Innvision Shelter Network $8,920.